Column: Workers' Comp

A Problem of Trust

By: | November 1, 2013 • 3 min read

Peter Rousmaniere is a journalist and consultant in the field of work injury risk. He lives in Woodstock, Vermont. Peter can be reached at [email protected]

I relish reports comparing one state’s workers’ compensation system with another’s. Yet, the more popular comparative reports trouble me. To be blunt, some of the most-read ones are flawed. Do not believe their numbers. Since data was invented — it first appeared in the West as a mortality table in 1662 — producers and users have been caught up in endless and sometimes infernal arguments over usefulness, credibility and access.


Two very careful publishers provide, at a growing pace, comparative analyses quickly shared among flourishing online venues. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) and the Workers Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) have been, by analogy, upgrading the quality of the dinner dishes, causing the rest of the dining table to look a little tawdry.

The state of Oregon publishes biennial state rankings of workers’ comp insurance costs. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics annually issues state injury statistics.

A reform advocate in New York recently used Oregon’s ranking data to assert that N.Y.’s workers’ comp system was expensive and inferior. Critics of the advocate pointed out an obvious flaw in the ranking data. Oregon compares the states by using a standard mix of industry based on Oregon’s most important employment codes. It should have long ago switched to using a mix that represents national employment.

Oregon’s publishing venture is short on resources. And it does not seem terribly interested in how others have come to use it. The interests of the national workers’ comp community likely have as much impact on it as a snowflake on the Pacific.

At least two for-profit firms have published comparative work safety rankings of states, drawing from Bureau of Labor Statistics data on injury types, rates and duration. Anyone who looks at state BLS data over time notes persistent but unexplained high rates in some states. Neither the BLS nor anyone else has tried to explain the persistent state disparities in, for example, industry sectors with extremely uniform business models nationwide. Maine’s figures, for example, are always high, to the chagrin of its state work safety officials.

Comparative data should be — in fact, must be — a resource for our industry. Many use the data to advocate a point of view, and before that to figure out how the workers’ comp system performs. This kind of data is especially useful in testing hypotheses.


The industry has a problem with parochialism, of just focusing on a state’s existing system and not questioning it by looking at other systems. The leadership of workers’ comp organizations is strengthened by knowledge of other states. We need to encourage creative, imaginative questioning, which comparative analysis enables and inspires. Sometimes one can get into strange propositions by using comparative analysis — all the better, as it indicates intellectual energy.

We need to measure the right things. Up through 2009, an actuarial firm compared insurance costs of manufacturers against injured worker benefits. I used this series to opine that Massachusetts bested the other states in its mix of low insurance costs and high benefits.

We need to compare workers’ comp costs of employers, benefits to workers, injury rates and the duration of disability — at the very least. The publishers need to account for major employment shifts, regionally and sector-wise as in residential construction. They need to account for privatization in Texas and Oklahoma. They need to earn our trust.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]